It is 9:30 a.m. on a bright, sunny Sunday morning, June 28, 1863. Nearly 2,000 Confederate infantrymen are approaching the town of York, Pennsylvania, a bustling crossroads borough of some 8,600 people. The Rebels are the vanguard of Maj. Gen. Jubal A. Early’s veteran division, and more than 4,000 additional soldiers now crowd the roads north and northwest of town also heading for York. The first troops to arrive are coming from the west on the turnpike to Gettysburg, which they had occupied on Friday afternoon before marching eastward all day Saturday on the dusty gravel surface toward York.
The previous evening, the chief burgess of York, a long-time Democrat newspaper editor named David Small, had been stunned by the news that one of his leading citizens, without authority, had ridden in a carriage west to meet the oncoming Rebel vanguard to negotiate the town’s surrender. Small, the bold businessman, and a few members of the town council had decided to ride out themselves to speak with the enemy general, Brig. Gen. John B. Gordon. They had agreed to allow the Confederates to occupy York in the morning without resistance, a wise move considering the vast number of veteran soldiers heading straight for the defenseless town.
Mary Cadwell Fisher, wife of York’s judge, summed up the community’s general feeling of helplessness: “Inasmuch as we were utterly without means of defense, there was not much danger of opposition.”
“The Rebels are coming! The Rebels are coming” came the cries of a mounted civilian, who raced into downtown with the alarming tidings.
Indeed they were coming.
The 31st Georgia, under the command of Col. Clement A. Evans, cross the Codorus Creek and prepare to enter York. They are the provost regiment, and it is their job to secure the town before the other five regiments march through on their way to the Susquehanna River. The citizen delegation on Saturday night had promised that state militia guarding the town would be withdrawn, and so far no lingering Yankee soldiers had been spotted.
Evans, a devout Methodist who kept a tight reign on his men, had occupied Gettysburg on Friday night and kept the peace, despite the presence just outside of town of the Louisiana Tigers, an undisciplined brigade noted equally for their drunkenness and their ability to whup the Yankees. The 31st would have the same job at York — watch for errant Yankees and protect the town from the boys from the Pelican State.
Evans’ 31st Georgia begins its entry into downtown York along West Market Street. Captain William Henry “Tip” Harrison recalled, “The citizens of York, who witnessed the entry of the first Confederate regiment, will probably remember a small squad of cavalry, followed by one of infantry of perhaps sixty, stationing a sentinel at each cross street in the town… As we marched into the town of York, a lady was heard to say, ‘I am ashamed of York, to quietly surrender to forty or fifty nasty, dirty rebels, when there are hundreds of able-bodied men here to fight them.’”
In reply, Harrison assured her there were several thousand just behind.
Tip Harrison was not exaggerating. What is today U.S. Route 30 was choked with five regiments of infantry, a battery of artillery, a couple hundred cavalrymen, and scores of ammunition and supply wagons, as well as ambulances, commissary wagons, medical wagons, etc.
Jubal Early had limited the amount of wagons that could accompany each brigade, else the procession likely would have stretched several more miles.
By 10:00 a.m. Gordon’s Brigade, headed by Evans’ 31st Georgia and the pioneers (construction crews) and some cavalry arrived in York.
It would be a long morning, and an even longer afternoon and evening, for York’s citizens.
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